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Psychological Intervention and Behaviour Change

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  • Full or part time
    Prof C Armitage
  • Application Deadline
    Applications accepted all year round
  • Self-Funded PhD Students Only
    Self-Funded PhD Students Only

Project Description

Health risk/protective behaviours (e.g. excessive alcohol consumption, binge drinking, obesity, excess weight, drug use, smoking, physical activity, dietary intake) are at the top of the government’s agenda because they cause illness and death, and are potentially amenable to change. The government has therefore employed marketing companies to develop “hard-hitting” advertising campaigns designed to change people’s health risk/protective behaviour. It is not clear whether these campaigns are working, and some psychologists argue they may be doing more harm than good. My research focuses on explicitly using psychology to develop and refine techniques to change these important health risk/protective behaviours.

The project will be split into two areas. The first area concerns “implementation intentions”, which are typically self-generated plans specifying where and when a person will act to (for example) reduce alcohol consumption, quit smoking, increase physical activity, reduce fat intake. Several key questions still need to be addressed, however: (a) Under what circumstances are implementation intentions effective? (b) What characterises a ‘successful’ implementation intention? (c) Does it matter whether individuals form their own implementation intentions or they are supplied by a researcher? (d) Can the effects of implementation intentions be sustained in the long term? (e) Which variables (that are amenable to measurement in the field) mediate the observed effects?

The second area is self-affirmation theory. Research shows that, when confronted by a threatening health message, people often engage in defensive information processing, meaning they process threatening information in a biased, self-serving manner. In the context of the UK government’s “hard-hitting” health campaigns, this is potentially very problematic. Self-affirmation offers a means to overcome these effects and it would be valuable to see whether self-affirmation can promote health behaviour change, the circumstances under which self-affirmation interventions are effective, and whether some self-affirmation manipulations are more effective than others.

The School of Psychological Sciences boasts a large and expanding community of researchers so the successful candidate will join a thriving environment.

The successful candidate will use psychological theory to develop behaviour change interventions, and randomized controlled trial methodology, including: design and analysis.

Candidates are expected hold a minimum upper second class (or equivalent) undergraduate degree in Health Psychology, Psychological Research Methods or equivalent. A related Masters qualification would be a distinct advantage.

This 3-year full-time PhD, due to commence January 2017, is open to candidates able to provide evidence of self-arranged funding/ sponsorship.

Funding Notes

This project has a Band 1 fee. Details of our different fee bands can be found on our website. For information on how to apply for this project, please visit the Faculty of Biology, Medicine and Health Doctoral Academy website. Informal enquiries may be made directly to the primary supervisor.


Armitage, C. J. (2009). Effectiveness of experimenter-provided and self-generated implementation intentions to reduce alcohol consumption in a sample of the general population: A randomized exploratory trial. Health Psychology, 28, 545-553.

Armitage, C. J., Norman, P., Noor, M., Alganem, S., & Arden, M. A. (2014). Evidence that a very brief psychological intervention boosts weight loss in a weight loss program. Behavior Therapy, 45, 700-707. doi: 10.1016/j.beth.2014.04.001

Armitage, C. J., Rowe, R., Arden, M. A., & Harris, P. R. (2014). A brief psychological intervention that reduces adolescent alcohol consumption. Journal of Consulting and Clinical Psychology, 82, 546-550. doi: 10.1037/a0035802

Wileman, V., Farrington, K., Chilcot, J., Norton, S., Wellsted, D. M., Almond, M., Davenport, A., Franklin, G., Da Silva Gane, M., & Armitage, C. J. (2014). Evidence that self-affirmation improves phosphate control in hemodialysis patients: A pilot cluster randomized controlled trial. Annals of Behavioral Medicine, 48, 275-281.

How good is research at University of Manchester in Psychology, Psychiatry and Neuroscience?

FTE Category A staff submitted: 67.70

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